Wednesday 23 January 2019

Discovery: A New Life of St Cybi

The Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae project (run between ASNC and CAWCS) is very excited to announce the discovery of a new medieval Life of St Cybi.

David Callander (research associate on VSC 2017–8) came across the Life while researching the jesuit scholar William Farrar. The Life survives only in Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb229, a manuscript previously unknown to Welsh scholarship, but one of tremendous importance for the study of Welsh hagiography. This is a seventeenth-century hagiographic miscellany, containing copies of medieval texts in Welsh, Latin, and English. This manuscript has remained entirely unstudied by Welsh scholars, and it provides a wealth of new material for the study of medieval and early modern Wales.

The most significant new text in this manuscript is a unique version of the medieval Latin Life of St Cybi of Holyhead. Two versions of a Life of Cybi survive in British Library, Cotton Vespasian A XIV, the major source of surviving Cambro-Latin hagiography. These versions are very similar to one another and are without doubt reworkings of the same original Life. The Yale Life of Cybi is also related to these texts, but far more distantly. It contains unique material, including a description of Cybi meeting the pope and miraculously removing a boulder from the entrance to St Peter’s basilica.

The retention of medieval orthography throughout demonstrates that the Life as it stands is a medieval product rather than an early modern creation. Indeed, the Yale Life’s strong and constant focus on presenting Holyhead itself as a bishopric may be no later than the eleventh century, and bears comparison with the eleventh-century Life of Padarn, although parts of the Yale Life are clearly later medieval.

Almost as interesting as the Life itself are the unique prayers which follow it in the Yale manuscript, consisting in two antiphons and two collects. Liturgical remains of the native Welsh saints surviving from Wales itself are desperately rare, and these prayers provide a unique insight into the practice of devotion to native saints in medieval Anglesey.

This important neglected manuscript and this new medieval saint’s Life will open up paths for much further study. David aims to publish the fruits of his discovery in the near future.